Talking with Families

When a student goes away to college, often one of the biggest adjustments for the family is the loss of daily contact. 

Students and parents may feel ambivalent about the physical separation, and each may make assumptions about what is going to be most helpful in easing the other’s transition. As you prepare to leave home for Wellesley, take some time to talk with your family about these issues so everyone feels more ready for these changes.

Talking about (and with) Parents

Try tackling some of the questions below before you head off to school.

How often should we talk on the phone?

Some families like to touch base daily, or with some regular frequency, and cell phones make this easy to do. Others agree on a less frequent, and more or less consistent, time to touch base. Bear in mind that you will have to turn off your cell phone while you’re in class, and likewise your family members may not be able to speak with you at the moment you decide to make your phone call. 

What other ways will we use to keep in touch?

See if you can express to your family what level of contact might feel supportive, without being intrusive into your new college lifestyle. You may love email and text messaging, but are your parents comfortable with these? Will either of you be writing letters by hand, sending packages, or dropping by for a visit? Make a note of Friends and Family Weekend, taking place this year on September 28-30, as a good time for a planned family visit to campus.

What is the plan for College vacations?

Look together at the campus calendar and think about whether it is financially or logistically feasible for you to travel home during breaks. Can you make some travel plans now?  If so, keep in mind dates for exams and the opening and closing of the residence halls. If you won’t be able to leave campus during these breaks, now is the time to explore your options for staying on campus, or making other arrangements.

Who pays the bills?

It is important to make sure that your student account is settled with the College, and that you and your family are discussing openly your plans for managing your financial obligations while you’re in school.  Does your financial package include the cost of books and supplies? Remember to budget for these, and to consider your needs for spending money during the year. You may choose to get a job, either on- or off-campus, to earn money toward your expenses, and should explore these options through the Student Financial Services website. 

Since the college will not send grades home to your parents, how will you share your academic progress?

As a Wellesley student, you bear both the control and the responsibility over your academic progress.  Many families stumble around the sharing of information about grades, class attendance, and completion of assignments. The College does not provide such information to parents or others without the student’s consent, and that can feel like a relief to some and a burden to others. Parents can be tremendously supportive, and often give pretty good advice; however, you will choose how and when to share information with them. And of course, your Class Dean, First-Year Mentor, and Faculty Advisor are likely to be the best sources of Wellesley-specific guidance. 

How do you hope to have your family involved in your decision-making?

During High School, many decisions you made probably involved your parents or guardians, and reflected their hopes and goals for you. In College, you will take on more responsibility for your own choices. Think with your family about how and when it will be okay for them to step in, and how you’ll keep them informed about the choices—academic and otherwise—that you make. Your parents will want to know about these decisions before they are irreversible, but may not need to weigh the pros and cons with you every time you pick a class or get involved with a campus club or organization.

What kinds of support will feel best to you?

As your relationship with your family evolves over time, your needs for emotional support and comfort may change somewhat. You may hope for more—or less—of the kinds of support to which you are accustomed. Do you parents typically offer a dose of reality when you’d prefer a sympathetic ear? Do they smother you with platitudes when it would be more helpful if they offered you some steps for solving a problem? See if you can engage them in this conversation before there is an issue to resolve. 

What are your goals for your college years?

Sometimes students and their parents assume they share the same vision of “success” during college, and find out along the way that it’s not quite that clear-cut. It can be nice to write out your goals, fears, and hopes—and to have your parents do the same—and then exchange your notes before having a discussion. You may realize that there are important and healthy similarities and differences in your written thoughts. Use these to build a deeper relationship even as you are beginning a new life as a Wellesley College student.